The tragic appeals of Forget, Forget

 Need a reminder?
By NICHOLAS SCHROEDER  |  September 6, 2013

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Forget, Forget are a relatively new septet from Portland, playing a spirited yet familiar take on contemporary indie-rock with elements of chamber folk. (The tone, tempo, and bombast of the Arcade Fire are a major touchstone.) Their debut record, titled We Are All, is inspired by people living with mental illness, with which bandleader Tyler DeVos is acquainted from working at a local organization specializing in the admirable effort of integrating, or reintegrating, afflicted persons into the community at large.

But while DeVos’s work may very well be successful on a sociological level, its musical translation is muddled and often problematic. Virtually all of We Are All’s lyrical content is influenced by, in many cases taken directly from, the words of schizophrenics. This creates some hairpin turns over the course of the record’s narrative, and DeVos makes the ride even more slippery by singing them as tragically sentimental, first-person confessionals.

This approach already squares uneasily with the Christian overtones of the album’s title — the notion that religious doctrine could be a salve to mental illness has always seemed a poor consolation prize — but Forget, Forget’s evangelist streak runs even deeper. To a fault, this music is designed to inspire. Despite the turbulent subject matter, the band seem virtually incapable of straying from the blueprint of buoyant, bewilderingly pleasant folk-rock. And though made by seven capable, seasoned local musicians, We Are All sounds confoundingly thin, its most energetic moments found in scattered measures of colorful guitar squall by John Nels Blanchette. Perhaps its greatest sin, a disturbingly high percentage of songs find room for one of those aggressively galvanizing whoah-oh-oh choruses, a formula the Arcade Fire reduced to such rote science — incidentally a profitable one — that it’s ingratiating to find it so prevalent here.

There’s no small amount of good intention here, yet the complexity of the content too far surpasses the formal limitations of textbook indie-rock. When DeVos sings in “Two People,” with nothing less than a saccharine croon, “you are two people/one of you was raped when you were just a girl/and it burns” — those last three words repeated as a preciously affected lingering chorus — it’s bizarrely tone-deaf, and not in a musical sense. You’d need a bad taste in poetry to get on board a rally-chorus of “our hearts’ impulse generator is a defective incubator,” and I don’t know if it’s wincingly hyperliteral or just plain bogus, but I can’t take a line like “my insides are the incinerator and you can’t force me to take a shower/because it’s my illness/it’s my illness/it’s my illness/it’s my illness” with any degree of seriousness. There’s no doubting or disparaging the severity of any of these circumstances, but the decision that led them to turn up here is misguided.

The drive to reckon with and better understand the symptoms of mental illness is indeed a noble one, but We Are All doesn’t accomplish that. Instead, it treats the illogical, often sensational language of schizophrenia like subject matter for a whimsical safari ride, safely shielded behind a comforting yet utterly unremarkable contemporary rock experience. DeVos works with these people and they’re understandably a large part of his life, but they’re too uncomfortably on display here, a fact made more unsettling by the group’s squeaky-clean aesthetic and transparently go-for-it ambitions. For the listener, the sensation is similar to that produced by those online ads soliciting pledges to aid indigenous children born with harelips: my humanitarian instinct is obviously engaged, but I still feel oddly pandered to.

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